Poetry International festival 2014: Actors and poets gather to celebrate the glory of love

Poets Don Paterson OBE, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Warsan Shire will be among those performing their own work

It's often said that love knows no bounds. There will be living proof of this adage in a celebration of international love poetry at a global literary festival in London today.

Fifty actors and poets from across the globe are gathering in the Royal Festival Hall, on the Southbank to recite the "50 Greatest Love Poems" from the past 50 years.

In a touching demonstration that love lasts beyond death, the wives of the late poets Adrian Mitchell and Michael Donaghy will be among those reciting poems on stage.

"Love poetry has always been something people like, but most of it isn't funny," said Celia Hewitt, Adrian Mitchell's second wife and the subject of his famously light-hearted love poem "Celia, Celia". "It was chosen to be one of the Poems on the Underground. He [Mitchell] used to sit and watch people smiling. It's a jolly love poem, it makes you laugh – that's why I like it."

Mitchell met Hewitt in 1961 and became known as Britain's "shadow Poet Laureate" before his death in 2008. Initially, Hewitt found it "almost embarrassing" to be the subject of Mitchell's work, but she now finds reading his work "very moving and uplifting".

Maddy Paxman, will be reading Donaghy's "The Present", a poem she recited to him in hospital in the days before his death in 2004.

"Obviously it is a huge privilege to have poems written about you, but they were not just for me, they were about love and for everyone," said Paxman, who published her book on grief, The Great Below: A Journey Into Loss, last month.

The readings are part of the five-day Poetry International festival and its summer-long Festival of Love. The poems have been selected from more than 30 countries around the world and include poems by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, the Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood, and the Indian writer Vikram Seth.

A number of poets will be performing their own work, including the Scottish writer and musician Don Paterson OBE, the Jamaican-born dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, and the first Young Poet Laureate for London, Warsan Shire.

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